Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

The I Diet

The I Diet

So this is a diet book that claims to have “100 Healthy Italian Recipes to Help You Lose Weight & Love Food”. Now I already loved food at the time that I bought this book, and I’ve never actually used it to try and lose weight, so I can’t really comment on either of those claims. However I can confirm that there are plenty of healthy Italian recipes inside.

While I haven’t used this book to diet, I have used it on a fairly regular basis in the 4+ years that I have owned it. One dish in particular – the Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs has become my go-to store cupboard meal. This rather strange combination of ham, parmesan, chili, peas, eggs and pasta (chili and cheese!) is an absolute delight that I cook at least once a month. These days I can’t get the little shell pasta shapes so have to use coquillettes instead but that works fine.

The I Diet - Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

The I Diet – Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

Now admittedly that dish takes a bit of time to cook and the portion is a tad on the small side, even for a diet book, but the end result is well worth it. A delicious sticky, salty and spicy mix that will never look elegant or sophisticated but always goes down a treat.

So back to the book. There’s a breakfast section, lunch, soups and salads, starters, pastas and risottos, meats, fish and desserts with a couple of “naughty” recipes such as tiramisu and carbonara tucked away at the back.

The recipes are well written and easy to follow and so far I’ve not had a single failure cooking from this book. About 70% of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photograph. While some dishes take a bit longer or are more involved, most have a fairly limited list of ingredients and can easily be prepared on a work night with no fuss.

As with most cookbooks I own, I’ve used the breakfast and dessert sections the least. However from the desserts I have given the chocolate and chestnut cake a go from (moist and not too sweet at all, this kept well for quite a few days).   On the breakfast front I’ve found that the baked eggs with ham works well as a light lunch or brunch option on weekends when I have a bit more time.

The I Diet - Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomaro & Garlic Sauce

The I Diet – Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomato & Garlic Sauce

While it was the lovely salads that drew me to this book (the Courgette Ribbons with Cannellini Beans with Lemon Dressing and the tuna Three Bean & Tuna Salad with Fresh Mint in particular), the recipes I seem to use the most are the chicken ones. The Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary is a little fiddly to make (I have a lot of trouble getting my rolls to stay rolled, but that could just be me) but produces a tasty and juicy result that looks quite fancy.

The I Diet - Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

The I Diet – Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

Another star recipe for me is the extremely quick and easy Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce. For a sauce that contains only 4 Ingredients this really packs a punch. It’s terrifically fresh and sharp. While chicken (or turkey) is obviously the healthiest option, the sauce also works really well with a nice bit of pork if you’re a bit less diet conscious.

The I Diet - Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

The I Diet – Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

Finally the Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella is particularly delightful and not something I would consider to be “diet” at all containing, as it does, not one but two cheeses!

The I Diet - Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

The I Diet – Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

If you want to use this to diet, rather than to dip into, there are plans consuming either 1500 or 2000 calories a day for those who want to use this book that way. In true Italian style each contains a daily calorie allowance for alcohol. There’s also some useful information on various ingredients such as the fat and calorie comparisons for various Italian cheeses (and of course various alcoholic option) which are worth bearing in mind when creating your own lighter options or just generally watching your weight.

 

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A lot of wine and a couple of tasty dishes

In the last week I’ve been lucky enough to visit two very different wine events.  The first was the Salon des Vins in Thoiry, where 48 different, and largely independent, producers from all over France were exhibiting.  Entrance and tasting was free, you just needed to pay the small sum of €4 for a glass (which you get to keep) with which to taste the wines.

With so many producers to choose from it was hard to know where to start.  There were a few regions and specialties that I wanted to try out and also I was with people who had been before and they were able to introduce me to some of their favorites.  Obviously I couldn’t sample every stall, but there was so many different wines to try at each that despite being there for about 4 hours, I actually only made it to about 10 stalls in the end.  However I definitely got my €4’s worth of use out of my glass.

Fairs like this are a great way to find some different wines form producers that you are unlikely to come across in the shops.  I was on my bike and so as a result I was a little limited in how much I can by (it was an interesting ride home!), but in the end I got 5 really special bottles including two very unusual Alsace wines (a lemony Riesling and a rose scented Gewurztraminer) and a delicious sparkling pink Cerdon.

My wines from the Thoiry salon des vins

My wines from the Thoiry salon des vins

The other wine fair I visited was a very different affair – it was Lidl’s Foire aux Vins!  Here you don’t get to sample the delights (which is a shame J) but you do get a huge variety of wines to choose from at great prices.  A lot of the wines are award winning as well!  This time the catalogue was 40 pages long and covered most of the major wine regions of France. Unfortunately in my store they didn’t have quite every wine from the catalogue that I’d had my eye on, but they still had a pretty good selection.

While Lidl’s normal selection is a little more hit and miss, I have never had a bad wine from their previous Foire aux Vins.  So with many gold medal winning wine available for less than €3.50, and having a car rather than a bike to get my goodies home, I went a bit mad and bought 28 bottles.  I don’t think I’ll need to go wine shopping again for a while now!

Wine from Lidl Foire aux Vins

Wine from Lidl Foire aux Vins

I’ve not just been buying wine this last week; I’ve also been doing some cooking!  The two dishes that I wanted to share this week both involved showcasing one really good ingredient as the center of the dish, in these cases tarragon and goats cheese respectively.

To start the week I made a wonderful dish of sautéed chicken with a creamy tarragon sauce.  I’m a big fan of tarragon and am always looking to include it in dishes so to make it the star of the show was a real treat.  This dish is quick to make as well as being tasty which makes it a lovely meal to whip up on a work night when you don’t want to spend too long at the stove.  Despite the creamy sauce this is actually quite light and works for these last hot days of summer.

Sautéed chicken with a Tarragon Cream Sauce

Sautéed chicken with a Tarragon Cream Sauce

The other big dish I made this week was the French classic salade aux chèvre chaud.  Another quick supper this was a great way to use up more of my spicy salad leaves which have been growing profusely over the last week.  I love the contrasts of this dish; the unctuous melted goats cheese and the crisp baguette, the tang of the cheese itself and the sweet pepperiness of the dress leaves – you can see why it’s so popular.

Salade aux chèvre chaud

Salade aux chèvre chaud

Balcony Produce and Beautiful Blueberries

In addition to enjoying cooking and eating food, since I moved out to France (and finally had a bit of an outdoor space) I’ve also been enjoying attempting to grow some food.  Not everything has been successful (so far this year my pumpkin and my spinach have been utter failures) but it’s great fun to try things out and see what will work.  I think there’s something really special about eating food you’ve nurtured and watched grow.

This year I’ve had a go at growing some nice purple aubergines.  It’s been a bit hit and miss (several of the flowers and one small aubergine went mouldy for no apparent reason and fell off) but the plant did finally produce two smallish but edible aubergines.  They had stopped growing a little while ago and so this past weekend I decided it was finally time to pick and eat them!

I decided to make baked aubergine, butter beans and tomatoes as this meant I could also use some of my home grown tomatoes and thyme – a real celebration of my balcony produce.  I have to say that as nice as this dish is with shop bought ingredients it was particularly special for having spent so long waiting for both the aubergines and tomatoes to be ready.

Produce from my garden for my baked aubergine, butter beans and tomato dish

Produce from my garden for my baked aubergine, butter beans and tomato dish

Blueberries are in season right now and there are plenty of them grown around this region so I thought I’d have a go at making something with them.  Rather than a traditional blueberry tart, the form in which I normally consume blueberries, I thought I’d try something a bit different and decided to have a go at making a blueberry pavlova.

I had never tried to incorporate some fruit into the meringue itself before but I thought it could be interesting so the plan I settled on was blueberry meringue, topped with blueberry crème and fresh blueberries.   A bit of a blueberry overload!

This was a bit of an experiment for me and I was really pleased with how it all turned out!  The meringues browned quite a lot in the outside but were a gorgeous purple hue once you cut into them.  The only problem I had was that my whipped cream melted in the heat so they looked a little flatter than I would have liked, but they tasted divine.  If you fancy having a go the recipe is posted here.

The remains of a blueberry pavlova

The remains of a blueberry pavlova

The final dish I wanted to share this week was for chicken and pepper quesadillas.   Quesadillas always make a tasty light lunch and are a favourite way of mine to use up spare bits of things that are in my fridge.  Traditional quesadillas just have cheese on the inside but you can use pretty much anything you like for a filling provided it can be chopped up small, isn’t too liquid and it goes with cheese!  For these one’s I kept it simple, just chicken, red pepper, cheese and spices – delicious!

Finally, despite the fact that there are three new recipes above, since I last posted I’ve actually not been cooking much.  Instead I have been lucky enough to go out for two meals, one in Geneva and one in Lausanne, as well as having a lovely Holy Cow take away and being treated to a delicious BBQ.  My meal in Geneva was in the charming Café Zinette and I’ve posted a review here.